THE COPRA PROBLEM
Conventional coconut oil comes from dried coconut flesh, called copra. Copra is dried in a wood-fuelled kiln, or in the sun, over a period of a few days. It is time-consuming, dirty, lonely, arduous, male-dominated, fuel-intensive and low-paying work. Many farmers consider it a form of slavery.
The journey of the copra from farm to mill is interesting:
After drying, the copra is rammed into hessian sacks. When full, these sacks weigh around 80kg which comes from 400 to 500 coconuts. The full sacks are transported by canoe or road (if available) to a local district centre that has a wharf and a copra buyer/trader. The sacks are weighed and stored under cover until a coastal cargo vessel calls into the wharf. The full sacks are then lugged into the vessel’s hold (a terrible job) to be taken on to an export port. Here the sacks are weighed again (they lose oil and weight in storage and in the holds of the local trading vessels) and then emptied onto a concrete slab in a warehouse to be pushed and shoved by bulldozers onto large tarpaulin sheets which are lifted by crane from their corners and dumped as bulk loose cargo into the hold of an international bulk cargo vessel for transport to a large industrial oil mill — often in Europe or Asia. Unhygienic drying, humid tropical conditions, bulk shipping and long distances, result in lengthy delays and the growth of moulds on the copra. Sometimes this leads to carcinogenic aflatoxin contamination.
Copra oil extraction requires large-scale, high-pressure, expensive, energy-intensive equipment. Unhygienic copra means that the resultant oil is normally of low quality with a Free Fatty Acid (FFA) level of well above 3%. (FFA is one measure of rancidity of oil).
Consequently copra oil requires refining, bleaching and deodorising (RBD) to create a commercially acceptable product. The refining process uses hydrochloric acid, solvents and steam to strip out the contamination. Some residual solvents remain in the oil. The process also removes the natural volatiles and anti-oxidants that give pure coconut oil its unique flavour and aroma. The total process from farm to refined oil can take many months. The residual copra-meal is only suitable as animal feed but, even here, care is required because it can be contaminated with carcinogenic aflatoxin.
The tropical world has over one billion coconut palms, producing over 50 billion coconuts each year. And yet, because of the low income earned on the world market from coconut products, many coconut groves are run down, with nuts and old trees lying where they fall, encouraging plant disease and insect pests.
With fluctuating copra prices, farmers only harvest their nuts when prices are high or when they are in desperate need of cash. For many remote islands with plenty of coconuts, copra is still a risky venture because of the infrequency of shipping services.
There is an urgent need to reclaim the Tree of Life.
The DME® solution
Direct Micro Expelling uses a totally different approach to coconut compared to that of the copra industry. With DME® we take (small-scale) processing to the nuts rather than taking the nuts (in debased form) to a (large-scale) processing plant located in another country. The outcome is that DME® produces a virgin coconut oil (VCO) of vastly superior quality copra oil (CNO).
“Direct Micro Expelling” is highly descriptive of the technology. It is:
- Direct — quick (oil produced within 1 hour of opening the nut) and efficient (Its oil extraction efficiency or OEE is 85% of the available oil).
- Micro — small scale (family farm size).
- Expelling — extraction of virgin oil and meal
The DME® Process concentrates on a small, manageable, daily throughput of up to 1,000 nuts. It is a “dry-process” using its shells as fuel. Whereas exactly the same resource made into copra takes a week to make and pack and then take many weeks to ship and process in large overseas oil mills.
The gender-neutral DME® process depends upon simple, easily learned skills, rather than sophisticated equipment. Families really enjoy working together on DME® VCO production, whereas they typically describe the male-dominated making of copra as a form of slavery.
DME® gives regular meaningful employment to teams of 3 to 5 women and/or men of all ages. A team can work on the process more-or-less whenever it suits them — whether it be 2 hours a day on 2 days per week or 8 hours a day for 6 days a week — it could even be operated on a shift basis all day and all night. Production can take place all year round and in virtually any weather.
It gives direct local employment in rural areas in nut collection and oil production, and it has multiplier income- and employment-effects. Where the oil is packaged locally or used as an input by local cosmetic, soap and detergent producers there is significant value added. Also, the residue goes for baking and livestock.
In general, the gross return from the DME® process is about 5 times, and the net return is about 8 times that of copra.
Average daily production is typically 20 to 60 litres (depending on the number of hours worked by a team), with skilled operators obtaining an oil extraction efficiency (OEE) of over 85% (of available oil). The number of nuts needed to produce one litre of oil depends on the size of the nuts. The range is between 9 and 18 nuts per litre.
The DME® process is made fully sustainable by using coconut shell as the fuel for the drier. It does not need wood from local forest resources or non-renewable fossil fuels.
Besides its uses as a cooking oil, or for skin moisturising and massage, virgin coconut oil is a good lamp fuel and, of all the vegetable oils, it is the best direct substitute for diesel-engine fuel.
After DME® coconut oil is extracted, the residual meal is a highly nutritious de-fatted grated-coconut with many potential uses. It has a high protein and dietary fibre content and can be ground into flavoursome gluten-free flour. It is excellent for baking biscuits and cakes and as stock feed.
The DME® equipment can also produce thick coconut cream for local domestic use.
The DME® technology is indeed “Empowering”.